The first trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was ponderous, portentous and pretentious. It really worried me. Then the succeeding trailers told us that we were getting Lex Luthor and Doomsday in the same movie – on top of adding the introduction of Wonder Woman. That seemed like an awful lot of apples to put in one basket – but there’s actually more than that in the movie.
Surprisingly, it’s pretty good.
From the various trailers and TV spots, it looked like our two heroes would clash because each had prejudged the other, but such isn’t the case.
Besides the big superhero clash, though, we’ve also got Russian terrorists; Kryptonian technology and government hearings on whether Superman should have government oversight.
Needless to say, the cast is huge: Henry Cavill is back as Clark Kent/Superman; Ben Affleck is pretty terrific as the Frank Miller version of Batman (he’s way past world weary – and using guns!); Amy Adams keeps Lois Lane as driven as ever; Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White is still grumpy and short-fused; Diane Lane remains the heart of Superman’s world as Martha Kent (thank goodness!), and Jesse Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg cubed as Lex Luthor.
The key additions to the cast are Holly Hunter as the head of those government hearings, Senator Finch (junior senator from Kentucky); Jeremy Irons as Batman’s butler/tech wizard, Alfred (and we could stand to see more of him in the future), and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.
The big set pieces are, of course, Batman versus Superman (for whatever reasons) and the Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) versus Doomsday – and they are well staged and filmed. The effects are superb – especially as Doomsday eventually metamorphoses into the spiny monstrosity of the comics (though his origin is more than a little wonky).
The exposition is better than the usual Zack Snyder film – Affleck’s reliable Chris Terrio balances out David S. Goyer’s more hyperbolic tendencies – but they still manage to not really differentiate between Superman (the Big Blue Boy Scout) and Batman (the Dark Knight) except in terms of native power (or lack of same) and shades of darkness.
Diana Prince is worked into the tale nicely, as she ‘borrows’ something of Bruce Wayne’s – and we get to see her in costume first in an aging World War I photo, before she shows up to show up the boys in the film’s last act. Gadot is probably the only source of real fun in the film, winding up Wayne the way she does.
Eisenberg’s Luthor is more a collection of annoying ticks and quick speech, like Mark Zuckerberg on speed, or something. I’m sure reaction to him will be split. I fall into the too much is too much school, here. Luthor never manages to come off as menacing, or crazy, or anything but annoying and obnoxious.
If you’re up on your comics lore, you will recognize that the movie borrows liberally from Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns and a storyline devised by Mike Carlin and the Superman writing team of Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, and Karl Kesel (comics fans will know the one I mean…).
To that, Terrio and Goyer have added the aforementioned Russian terrorists and other embellishments.
The biggest surprise is that Batman V Superman is not the ponderous monstrosity that the first trailer suggested it would be. Snyder does a solid if not spectacular job of balancing the mundane and the super, and never overstays in either side more than a little.
Superman v Batman moves well – Snyder knows how to frame an action sequence and has gotten much better at shooting the in between stuff. He’s also done a lovely job translating the scripts glimpses of Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) into cool moments onscreen.
There are the usual Easter eggs, too (Officers Mazzuccheli and Rucka among them) to keep superfans on their toes – and several real world figures (Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper and Neil deGrasse Tyson among them) to give us a semblance of verisimilitude.
As a film unto itself, Batman v Superman works pretty well; as a set up for the Wonder Woman movie (she steals BvS out from under its titular characters) and Justice League, it’s a pretty firm anchor/springboard. Given the time allowed for it to be made, and the logistics of it, it’s pretty darned okay.
Final Grade: B
Photos by Clay Enos – TM & © DC Comics/Courtesy of Warner Bros.